Sometimes us vegans, in all our enthusiasm, get a little carried away, and present veganism as a solution to all the world’s problems. There are two issues with this. Firstly, and obviously, it is not correct. Veganism – whether you see it as a philosophy or just as a behavior – is definitely a partial solution for many big problems, from animal suffering to environmental, health and global hunger problems. Yet veganism can obviously not solve all the world’s problems. Neither can it solve any of these problems entirely on its own.
The second issue with presenting veganism as something that can save the world, is about credibility. Both our messages, and we ourselves, the messengers, will sound less credible if if we talk like devout evangelists, than if we act like rational, reasonable soft spoken advocates. Paradoxically, when you show you don’t know everything, when you show you are aware of the possible shortcomings of your theories and the flaws in your arguments, you will be more convincing rather than less. To put this another way: if you seem more convinced, you will often be less convincing.
Here’s an example (found on Facebook) of what I call vegalomania, or vegan megalomania. Note how vegans are represented as the saviors of the planet (and the known universe).
“The planet is dying, the animals are dying, the wildlife is dying, the seas are on their last legs due to overfishing and the pollution from the livestock industry (reference Cowspiracy) – we have the answers to many if not all of the human and and ecological problems and to me, we are under an imperative to share it loudly and clearly, looked at this way – we are doing people a favour when we advocate strongly and urge them to go vegan now – it’s actually an act of great kindness and generosity on our part.”
As always, we need to take our audience into account, and this audience may vary. What works for some audiences may not work for other audiences. I can imagine that groups of adolescents might be more easily swayed by a more radical message than one that is too diluted with caveats. Conversely, when we want to reach critical university students, we would do well adding a pinch of self-doubt.
Don’t get me wrong: again, I think there are few things people or society as a whole can do that are better than moving towards a diet or lifestyle without animal foods, and a totally different relationship with animals. Thus, the vegan message is definitely a message worth spreading. But always and everywhere suggesting that veganism is what will ultimately save the world is probably a bit too much. Let’s see if we can spread our message in a reasonable way, that can convince the outsiders rather than turn them off.
22 thoughts on “Vegalomania: the belief that veganism can solve everything”
Mega reinforcement of a great message.
Agree. I think you are the solution to all of our communication problems. I may suffer of Tobiasmania 🙂
I also suffer from that! And, btw, relative to the topic of the excellent piece: “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
“Let’s see if we can spread our message in a reasonable way, that can convince the outsiders rather than turn them off.”
If we want the “outsiders” to join us, we are unfortunately in the position of having no option other than to convince those people. Nobody really likes another person “in their face”, or telling them how they are wrong, etc. All that will usually accomplish is turning off the person who’s a target of those things.
I think it helps to put things in perspective when you think of what it would take for a non-vegan to convince you to eat meat. Now put that in reverse…that’s what we are up against.
Another great post, Tobias. Thanks!
“I think it helps to put things in perspective when you think of what it would take for a non-vegan to convince you to eat meat. Now put that in reverse…that’s what we are up against. ” – such a wise comment and reminder. thanks!
Thanks, Hillary…that means a lot coming from you! Hey everybody! Hillary Rettig says I’m wise! lol 🙂
I don’t see a mirror image between veganism and malzoism. One is based on a careful examination of ethics and the other is carefully ignoring the gap between their personal ethics (harm = bad, suffering = bad, golden rule = do unto others as you would have done unto you) and their actions (sponsor the cruelty to and slaughter of sentient creatures, reducing them to palatable products that enhance the illusion of acceptability). Were this a mirror image, there would be ethical groups that sincerely believe in the necessary suffering of animals. I don’t know of any. What I see is an ethical smokescreen of ambiguity and doubt casting, not to awaken people to truth but rather to lull them back into listening to their appetites rather than their ethical (or environmental) outlook. If you yourself are not a human supremacist and speciesist, why would you praise the “wise comment and reminder” that we must adjust our message so as not to wake up the carnists?
Are you suggesting that people shouldn’t fight for justice, just encourage people politely that justice is a good thing to strive for in a way that doesn’t upset their day, or even their train of thought? Were that the limits of our social voice women would still not be allowed to vote. I’ll counter Tobias’ invitation to incrementalism with another term — glacialism. (Good, the spell checker totally hated that.) It’s a brand of activism where you gradually get everybody to change their ethos without spoiling their dinner; like glaciers, you can measure the changing landscape over thousands of years.
This is not to say that an activist doesn’t need a full range of outreach in their belt — the right action or comment depends on the listener, not the activist. Sometimes it’s a wakeup call, that demands a response, even if it’s rejection. Change requires nurturing to be sure, but how do you nurture someone who is emotionally comatose to the movement? “A vegan was mean to me” is a common refrain for people to declare that they will never be vegan, and honestly, I welcome that dialogue. Too much of our society is, “Vegan? What’s that?” because they never ever considered that their animal consumption is anything other than a lifetime subscription to normalcy. If you endorse normalcy, then give away your vegan T-shirts; your compassion footprint sucks if you’ve stopped eating animals but still aren’t a voice for them.
I think you set up a straw man, Tobias.
How many vegans think that veganism will solve ALL of the worlds problems? I think you are just responding to some overstatements you hear on the part of frustrated vegans. On the other hand, veganism can significantly impact the main problems we face as a species. When you are hungry, sick, and displaced due to climate change, its hard to tackle the other problems in the world.
I also sense again what may be playing an unconscious role in your constant plea for moderation. You say:
“we ourselves, the messengers, will sound less credible if if we talk like devout evangelists,”
I believe you do not like being preached at and therefore mistakenly make an equivalence to vegan advocacy. You don’t want to receive the same treatment that we often dish out in response to religious pressure. If so, I believe you are reacting inappropriately.
Faith is faith. Its a personal belief system with no foundation in science or logic (and it often fails on the morality end of things as well. ) Compassion and an innate search for morality and fairness, are human traits – not universal – there are sociopaths – but it is inborn to most of us – we needed it to survive as a species. Proselytizing veganism is an attempt to make the connection to those innate human traits.
While it is true that different groups and populations need to receive messages that are crafted differently, the end goal is the same: connect to our human side in a direct and unequivocal way. Being circumspect and indirect and sending a message with ulterior motives reflects very poorly on the messenger’s own integrity. If you say, buy cage-free eggs when you secretly mean, “go vegan”, the confusion you create in the mind of the target audience is real, contradictory and counterproductive. I don’t believe sugar-coating a message adds to its credibility – but it appears you do.
“If you say, buy cage-free eggs when you secretly mean, “go vegan”, the confusion you create in the mind of the target audience is real, contradictory and counterproductive…”
To me, this is the equivalent of stating that learning the alphabet is contradictory and counterproductive to learning how to read & write.
I don’t there’s any “secret agenda”…it’s just simply understanding that step 1 comes before step 2. Even babies innately know it’s an effective strategy to first learn how crawl & stand before trying to walk.
Just like learning the alphabet is the first step towards learning how to read & write, for many people buying cage-free eggs is a first step and possible segway that may lead to the next steps.
Whoops, made a typo (and in a comment on about knowing how to write…hurr durr! 🙂 )
This sentence should say, “I don’t FEEL there’s any “secret agenda”…it’s just simply understanding that step 1 comes before step 2.”
i’ll admit that i’m reacting to a bit of an extreme form of vegan argumentation, and that nobody things that veganism will solve ALL the world’s problems, so in that sense this can be called a strawman, but i think the meaning of what i’m saying is pretty clear, and also the word “vegalomania” is a bit tongue in cheek. what this is about is about been calm and rational about our claims, so that we be more credible.
yes, it’s very well possible that i’m projecting to a large extent, taking myself as the measure of things (as i’m saying many vegans do), but i always try to be aware of that. this piece is more intuitive and opinion than sound fact, but people can judge for themselves whether it resonates with them or not. if it doesn’t, i still would advise to think deeply and not dismiss the argument too easily.
anyway, we seem to have different opinions about this. i read a lot of stuff like your last paragraph, and i don’t buy that at all. but i appreciate you’re disagreeing respectfully.
The vegan community is a source of almost endless amusement. If you don’t exaggerate matters,, you’re sugar coating the message.
In any case, even suggesting that its a “partial solution” is giving too much credit. The problem here is attempts by vegans to justify and promote veganism by any means….even if that means exaggeration and distorting the facts. This occurs because veganism is not intellectually grounded….instead its a dogmatic lifestyle doctrine. This sort of thing will continue so long as you try to put lipstick on a pig.
Mr Toad, thanks.
“This sort of thing will continue so long as you try to put lipstick on a pig.”
It appears to me that this can work both ways. Vegans are perceived as trying to put lipstick on a pig, and in response to this, non-vegans can be said to be doing the very same thing themselves in their attempts to justify their own doctrine in response.
“The problem here is attempts by vegans to justify and promote veganism by any means…”
What about attempts by non-vegans to justify and promote non-veganism by any means, including such means as repeatedly attempting to point out the perceived flaws of veganism on a website tailored specifically for a vegan audience?
I wonder if there is a “Non-Vegan Strategist” website with a focus on how non-vegans can convert vegans into non-vegans that could help you improve your non-vegan strategy?
I wonder if a vegan were to post enough comments there stating that non-veganism is not “intellectually grounded”, and for enough times, those non-vegans would finally get it?
As one of the most famous intellectuals of our time stated:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
(p.s. A true vegan would never attempt to put lipstick on a pig. 🙂 )
When you say “their own doctrine” I assume you mean the practice of eating meat, etc….in which case I think categorizing it as a doctrine is a mistake. This is just something people do because its part of their culture…..not because they are following some doctrine or belief system.
“What about attempts by non-vegans to justify and promote non-veganism by any means”
Non-vegans don’t need to promote non-veganism….its already the norm. Instead they will argue against veganism…..or explain why they aren’t vegan. And I’m sure you’re well aware that the typical non-vegan doesn’t care about engaging with vegans or arguing against veganism…….because they don’t have to answer to a fringe group nor do they care what they think.
In terms of non-vegan strategy…..my goal has never been to convert vegans to non-vegans nor are my comments targeted towards the average vegan. My “non-vegan strategy” has a variety of purposes, for example, helping prevent otherwise intelligent and educated people from getting sucked up in vegan ideology. And in terms of expecting different results, you got it all wrong, I expect the same result again and again…..and that is part of the strategy.
I still intend to create some sort of website that would be a counterpoint to veganism…..I’ve just had other matters to attend to this year.
I think most of the vegans who spread exagerated facts and false information actually believe these, as most people never learned how to tell unreliable sources from reliable ones… Also, it is true that vegans are biased in favor of veganism, as all humans are biased towards what they already believe. However, like I just said, this is the case for any and all groups. This doesn’t dismiss veganism, just as it doesn’t dismiss any ideology. And I don’t believe that adapting our message to our audience is sugarcoating, and understanding that it’s better to ask for smaller steps doesn’t mean that we can’t show the cold hard facts…
By the way, why do you want to keep people from adopting a vegan ideology? Do you think being vegan is dangerous for one’s well being? If so, why?
I never implied bias of individual vegans (everyone admits cognitive biases, etc) dismisses veganism, I would dismiss veganism on what it asserts…..which in fact isn’t all that much. Veganism, at the core, is just a consumer boycott of a class of products first defined by the vegan society.
I do think being vegan can be dangerous for some people’s well being…..but generally speaking the only people I would actively try to discourage from associating with veganism are educated, intelligent, etc folks because these are the only people that are respective to reason and also the vegan movement loses credibility without them.
And note I said *associate*……while I think the vegan standard is arbitrary…..I don’t see any harm in someone following the lifestyle assuming they aren’t having difficulties with it. What I’m against is the promotion of veganism as a solution to well…..any issue.
Actually, Tobias, the thing that resonates the most is your conviction that conviction breeds doubt in your conviction. I find myself examining your argument and feel that in order to make your point I need more than your assurances on your sage wisdom. I think a true rebuttal would be to illustrate a world in which malzoism, the anthropocentric perspective that humans are exceptional and their consumption and comforts are the priority in the face of global crises (you DO believe in those, don’t you?) is sustainable.
You say, “we need to take our audience into account.” To whom do you pander your scolding of vegans? The audience is the problem, Tobias, and you have just indulged them with excuses for their anthropocentric patterns that create global crises. You talk like them, pointing out that veganism isn’t a 100% solution, so why bother? Counterpoint for you to address, sir, is to write a similar article for anti-fossil fuel lobbyists, because stopping coal isn’t a 100% solution to saving this planet. Rockström’s planetary boundaries model identifies nine planetary boundaries and animal agriculture pushes on seven of them, climate change being only one.
The biggest problems that our society face are the ones where our heads are the most buried in the sand and we see the most excuses that our bad habits are so very, very hard to change. Your contribution of the term “veganlomania” identifies you as a champion of the indulgent and your article serves only as a lullaby to those captive to willful ignorance.
Practice compassion. Don’t underestimate what making it the barometer for your life can do — it’s contagious, and it is a necessary ingredient to stop wars, stop abuse, stop social injustice. In fact, it may be the only thing that can.
i think i’ll just agree to disagree with you. stopped reading at your “pander your scolding of vegans.” that destroyed my goodwill. Feel free to try again another time.
bad time lol